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  • The Paradox of Leadership: there is more than one right answer

    During our respective careers, each of us has developed methods for approaching our work that allow us to be effective.  Most likely we adopted these methods because they worked really well for us in the past. One day however, you feel like you are in a rut.  All your methods and beliefs about how to manage/lead an organization are not working.

    I personally came to this same realization when I moved to Europe and took on the role of CFO of the European region for a large multinational company.   At the same time, I happened to be reading, “Management of the Absurd”, by Richard Farson.  His words made all the difference in helping me grow and adapt my leadership skills. I had to throw out some deeply held beliefs based on what had worked for me in the past and develop a new approach.  By doing so, my leadership skills grew significantly.

    Here are my 3 favorite concepts from the book.

    [1] “The Better Things Are, the Worse They Feel” [Farson 92]

    This concept addresses the theory of rising expectations.  When conditions improve and individuals have increased their knowledge, they now observe bigger issues that need to be solved.  Therefore, as a leader seeking feedback about how things are going, you will initially be surprised that people seem more discontent.  In the world of continuous improvement, the more you improve, the more you find that needs to be improved.  The lesson for leaders is to acknowledge what has improved and embrace the fact that staff are now more in-tune with the business processes and feel empowered to bring issues to you.  This is success.

    [2]” Listening Is More Difficult Than Talking” [Farson 61]

    As a leader, it is important to realize that you will never have the answer or solution to a problem.  The problems or situations that land on your desk are highly complex.  Earlier in your career, no doubt you were a technical expert and did have the answer.  Now, your skill in facilitating the solution comes from knowing who should be invited to the table to create and implement the solution.  It also means listening to people and really understanding their perspective and the issue. True listening means that you may have to give up a long held belief.

    [3] “The Opposite of a Profound Truth is Also True” [Farson 21]

    In your very first job, things did appear black or white.  As a financial analyst, the accounts balanced or they did not.  The customers paid on time or were late.   You met the cut-off for posting journal entries or you were late.  Now fast forward to the present and you are the leader of a significant organization.   As you work on your strategy, for example, there is no right answer, just a series of outcomes based on a variety of assumptions.  Some assumptions may be unknowable from a quantitative perspective.  At the senior level, you are now in the world of ambiguity, contradictions and opposites.  As a leader, do not search for the black and white answer.  Rather, accept the ambiguities, contradictions and opposites and cultivate the knowledge and experience of your team to determine the best course of action.

    In summary, what worked for you in the past may not work in the future.  Address each situation with a “clean piece of paper” and determine the proper path forward with the team.

    Works cited:

    Farson, R., Management of the Absurd. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster., 1996. Print.

    Published on May 15, 2012 · Filed under: Finance;
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